Moderna, Merck ink license agreement

The companies will collaborate on the development of mRNA-based vaccines against viral diseases

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Moderna Therapeutics has begun a license and collaboration agreement with Merck & Co., known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, through a subsidiary, under which the companies will discover and develop vaccines and passive immunity treatments against viral diseases using modified messenger RNA (mRNA). Valera LLC, Moderna's venture that is focused on developing mRNA vaccines and therapeutics against infectious disease, will lead Moderna's work in this deal.
Per the terms of the agreement, Merck will pay Moderna $50 million up front in cash, for which Merck will gain the ability to utilize the granted licenses to commercialize five product candidates, and will also make an equity investment of $50 million in Moderna. Moderna is also eligible for undisclosed per-product development and commercial milestones, as well as tiered royalties on commercial sale. Merck will lead candidate discovery and development and commercialization of any products that result from the agreement, while Moderna will be responsible for designing and synthesizing the mRNA product candidates against selected targets. Under the three-year research collaboration, which has a possible one-year extension, Merck and Moderna will seek to develop mRNA-based vaccines and treatments against four undisclosed viruses.
"By combining Merck’s strength in vaccine and antiviral therapeutic development with Moderna’s mRNA Therapeutics technology we are well positioned to develop differentiated candidates with the potential to provide meaningful benefit to patients,” said Dr. Roger M. Perlmutter, president of Merck Research Laboratories. “We look forward to working with the scientific and technical teams at Moderna.”
Valera's vaccine work is built on preclinical research out of Moderna that demonstrates the ability of modified mRNA to express viral antigens in vivo and induce robust immune responses. Valera's therapeutic passive immunity programs will expand on Moderna's research using mRNA to express antibodies that bind to viral targets, among others. Moderna's mRNA Therapeutics platform is based on the discovery that modified mRNA is capable of directing the body to produce almost any protein of interest.
“Given the tremendous potential for messenger RNA Therapeutics across a wide range of therapeutic applications, establishing long-term strategic relationships with world leaders in their fields will accelerate our ability to bring mRNA products to patients in need,” said Stéphane Bancel, president and CEO of Moderna. “Merck’s worldwide leadership in vaccines and anti-infective treatments make them an ideal collaborator for us, particularly given their strong commitment to innovation and new approaches to prevent and treat serious viral diseases. We are excited to work in collaboration to move these promising programs forward for patients.”
Moderna launched Valera on January 8, 2015, to be exclusively focused on advancing vaccines and therapeutics for the prevention and treatment of viral, bacterial and parasitic infectious diseases.
“We are thrilled to launch Valera to bring sharp focus to developing mRNA Therapeutics for a wide range of infectious diseases, which remain a hugely significant global health threat,” said Stéphane Bancel, president and CEO of Moderna. “We believe that mRNA offers unique advantages when it comes to the rapid design and manufacture of new vaccines and therapies, and we have seen promising signs of efficacy in our preclinical work.”
SOURCE: Moderna Therapeutics press release

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